By my own estimation, my last blog entry was weak and perhaps confusing. It was confusing not because it was in error necessarily (or so I believe) but because it tried to cover too much and became, I am ashamed to say, incoherent. This entry will try to put into a more coherent order the points I wanted to make last week.
First, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant are identical as to their nature but not their particulars. In other words, because both are covenants from God they both have commands that need to be obeyed (Deut. 13:4; John 14:15). Disobedience to those commands brings God’s displeasure and punishment (Deut. 11:27,28; II Thess. 1:6-8). The particular commands of the Old Covenant are different than the particular commands under the New Covenant, but disobedience to the Old Covenant Law resulted in God’s displeasure just as disobedience to the New Covenant Law brings God’s displeasure.
Second, as we saw last week, God has always required the involvement of the heart in His service. The fact that Abraham was justified by faith, should be enough to prove this point. But, in addition to the points made last week, we could point out that Moses said that if the children of Israel sought the Lord with all their heart and soul, they could find Him (Deut. 4:29). God’s commandments and words were to be in their heart (Deut. 6:6). God gave warning that strange wives were not to be taken that turned their hearts from the Lord (Deut. 17:17). The word was to be in their mouth and in their heart to do it (Deut. 30:14). Joshua commanded the people to serve the Lord with all their heart (Josh. 22:5), to put away the strange gods and incline their heart unto the Lord (Josh. 24:23). Worship was to be with the whole heart (Psalm 9:1).
On and on this list could go but it is clear that, although perhaps not always practiced by many Jews, the Old Covenant required obedience from the heart. Commentators often casually pass over this or see it only as something which might occasionally manifest itself in the bosom of some extraordinarily righteous person. But this was a command central to the Law (Deut. 6:4-6; 11:16-22; 32:46; cf. Num. 20:12). The fact that many Jews may not have kept the law apart in their heart or loved the Lord with all their heart and soul does not negate the fact that the Lord required it. The fact is, many under the New Covenant do not hide the law of God in their hearts (cf. e.g. I Thess. 2:4; 3:13; Heb. 3:8,12; 4:7, 12; James 1:26; 4:8; I Pet. 3:12). But this does not negate the fact that He now requires it.
The point here is this: The New Covenant is not different from the Old Covenant in this respect: that God’s law must be in His servant’s heart. That has always been so. Therefore, the prophecy that God would put the law into the mind and in the heart must involve something more. This prophecy (Jer. 31:31-34) that God would put the law into their hearts and minds cannot be understood apart from two other important points mentioned in the prophecy, namely: 1) that entrance into this covenant would be with knowledge and volition and, 2) the real and final forgiveness of sins was to be given.
The first point here, that entrance into this covenant would be with knowledge and volition, was established last week. I redact a quote from that entry:
A Jewish male was circumcised the eighth day of his life and that act was a sign that the child was already bound by the covenant God had made with Israel (Ex. 34:28; Gen. 17:11-14). But an eight day old baby has no knowledge or understanding of being in the covenant, either of it’s requirements or of it’s promises. As the Jewish child grew, he was then taught the covenant by his parents. This training was to be meticulous, from the time of rising in the morning till the lying down at night (Deut. 6:7-12; Ex. 12:26,27). But the instruction came after the child was already in the covenant.
Under the New Covenant, before one is ever added to the kingdom of God, he must be taught. . .Today, every person truly obeying the gospel does so willingly. It is a personal choice made out of free will. No man or woman can be coerced to be a Christian by sword or gunpoint. No one can twist your arm because obedience comes from the heart (Rom. 6:17). You do not inherit salvation from your parents (cf. Ezek. 18:20). You are not born into the kingdom of God by natural birth but by a new birth (John 3:3). This new birth is one that is out of water and the Spirit (John 3:5), or, freely and willingly obeying the Spirit’s command to be baptized (Mark 16:15,16). It is the answer of a good conscience toward God (I Pet. 3:21).
Thus one entered into the Old Covenant by natural birth, unaware of their condition and could only after becoming an adult turn their heart to God in faith. One enters the New Covenant, however, already informed and with purpose, the heart having been pricked by the word of God. (cf. Acts 2:38). But the next element of the prophecy is even more important.
Jeremiah also says that not only would God forgive sins but also forget them (Jer. 31:34). Under the Old Covenant there was a remembrance made of sins every year (Heb. 10:1-3). Not only the Day of Atonement but all through his life a person had to offer various sacrifices for sin. However, under the New Covenant there is real, complete forgiveness of sins. The blessing of the New Covenant is that those sins for which I am forgiven will never be held against me again. God forgives those sins and forgets them.
This forgiveness of sins is based upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. There could be no complete forgiveness if there was no perfect and sufficient sacrifice. “For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must He often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Hebrews 9:24-26).
Under the Old Covenant, then, you were born without choice into a covenant where sins were remembered every year. You were then taught the laws of the covenant and could follow them sincerely from the heart, but there was always the remembrance of sin. The Old Covenant left sin dangling above your head like Damocles sword, so to speak. In the Christian Dispensation, however, Christ has offered Himself for our sins. A person who hears this good news and learns of Christ and His sacrifice may willfully respond in sincere faith to that message of hope and avail himself of the blood of Christ, being forgiven of sins. Notice how Paul ties all of this together:
Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified. Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin (Hebrews 10:9-18).
Therefore, it is not just that the law is to be in our hearts, but that Christ has made a way to be forgiven, completely forgiven of sins. This makes the desire to follow His will that much more potent and gives us boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus so that we may draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith (Heb. 10:19-22).
Eric L. Padgett